By Bill Heaney
Chief Constable Jo Farrell is quietly settling in to her post as the new Chief Constable of Police Scotland.
But there are already indications that, apart from his valedictory statement about the Force being blighted by racism, sexism and mysoginy, her predecessor, Sir Iain Livingstone, has left behind him a large, urgent caseload for Ms Farrell to deal with.
And it’s not just the drugs deaths and trouble on the streets, but the increasingly sleazy world of Scottish politics, sexual and domestic abuse and missing money that were in her in-box awaiting her arrival here.
Jo Farrell took up her new post earlier this year, having been in charge of Durham Constabulary since June 2019.
The Scottish Police Authority announced that she had been chosen for the top job in Scottish policing following a rigorous selection process.
Following that announcement, she said: “As Chief Constable of Police Scotland I have been offered a unique opportunity to take on one of the most challenging jobs in UK policing.”
That was no under-statement.
Apart from the prestige, the salary and the hugely attractive pension, most of the top jobs in government and the public services are a hospital pass.
Embarrassment and criticism lurk around every corner and, despite the fact that one former Chief Constable of Dunbartonshire said the only thing any chief executive should have on his desk are his feet, such posts are no longer a sinecure.
Detective Inspector William Kerr was at the pinnacle of the police service when he put handcuffs on the four university students who stole the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey, but that’s history.
Chief Constables Sir David McNee, Sir William Kerr, Sir Patrick Hamill and Sir Iain Livingstone with montage of pictures of police at work in West Dunbartonshire. Top of page: Chief Constable Jo Farrell has her work cut out here.
His career ended tragically when he walked into the rear rotor blades of a helicopter , which was destined to become the first one introduced to the police service in Scotland, and was seriously injured after it landed at the then new police headquarters at Crosslet in Dumbarton.
Sir William was replaced by Sir David ‘The Hammer’ McNee who had already earned himself a place in history as the person who smashed the illegal money-lending gangs in the Harmony Row area of Govan, a notoriously poor area of Glasgow.
Sir David, who came to this area to live in Cardross, was highly respected as was the person who succeeded him, Sir Patrick Hamill, who was a local man who had served on the beat as a community policeman and as a bar officer in local police stations as well as Dumbarton Sheriff Court and was was also well-known and respected by the public. He was also a Catholic, which was a first in Scotland.
The reputation of the police went before them at that time. There was a sufficiency of officers on the beat, many of them on first name terms with the public they served and, although major crimes were solved and controversies dealt with, the courts were much less busy than they are now when people are hauled before them for no more than some people would class as misdemeanors.
Then Strathclyde Police took over. This was the territorial police force responsible for the Scottish council areas of Argyll and Bute, Glasgow City, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire (The former Strathclyde local government region) between 1975 and 2013. And the Police Authority contained members from each of these authorities.
Strathclyde Police had the largest numbers of staff and served the largest population and the second largest area of the eight former Scottish police forces, after the Northern Constabulary.
Then An Act of the Scottish Parliament, the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, created a single Police Service of Scotland—known as Police Scotland—with effect from 1 April 2013. This act merged the eight regional police forces in Scotland (including Strathclyde Police), together with the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, into a single service covering the whole of Scotland.
The date April 1, 2013 is significant. April 1 is All Fools Day and 13 is seen by many as unlucky number. For the police and public in Scotland these dates were both unlucky and foolish.
It was obvious to many that the national force was far too big and that it was never going to cope with the vast amount of work that would be allocated to it.
The anticipated economies of scale failed to materialise and people phoning the police to report accidents and other information were dismayed to find those civilians and police taking their calls had little or no idea of the geography of many areas or the people they were calling about.
Also, since it was established by the SNP government, the merger of the regional forces into a national force has been viewed as politically naive.
The police on the ground have come in for continuous criticism from the public many of whom believe they are never there when you want them.
That there are too few police patrolling local streets and that Scotland is no longer safe for people, particularly women, to go out after dark.
On Wednesday, Police Scotland warned MSPs it could be forced to make compulsory redundancies as the force faces having to cut 800 officers and staff by April 2024 – with the prospect that overall numbers could fall by more than 2,000 over the next four years if budgets are not increased.
The warnings came as senior figures from both the police and fire service appeared before Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee.
With the focus of discussions on the budget for 2024-25, both emergency services issued a stark warning on what may happen unless more money is made available.
David Page, Police Scotland’s deputy chief officer, told MSPs the force will have to cut 600 officers and 200 staff by April 1 if it is given a flat-cash budget settlement.
But he said: “We actually can’t do that, because we don’t have enough levers to pull.
“Even if we stopped all the probationer intake in December and the probationer intake in March, it would not get us down to the number we need to do this.
“So, we would be looking to other mechanisms, like voluntary redundancy, potentially coming to the Government and seeking compulsory redundancy.”
Police Scotland has already cut officer numbers from 17,234 to 16,600 in 2023-24, a 3.7% reduction.
But a paper submitted by the force shows its initial analysis of a flat-cash settlement – where money is not increased – for 2024-25 would mean it needs to make savings of £50 million next year, leading to cuts in numbers by April.
Looking ahead over the period 2024-25 to 2027-28, the paper warned: “For policing in Scotland to operate within a flat-cash funding allocation, £140 million of recurring savings would be required to accumulate over this period.
“Pay award assumptions alone would require a 2,070 FTE reduction over the next four years, the equivalent of a 9.3% workforce reduction.”
Page added the financial situation means he cannot guarantee body-worn cameras for police officers would be rolled out next year, though he said Police Scotland is doing its “utmost” to ensure it goes ahead.
Afterwards, Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said: “Just a week after Humza Yousaf promised to deliver bodycams for our police, a senior police official has cast doubt on his pledge.
“Officers in the rest of the UK already have this essential kit, yet police in Scotland may have to wait even longer due to SNP funding cuts.”
Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay and Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill.
Findlay added the projected fall in police numbers was “also alarming”, saying: “Losing a further 2,000 officers would decimate Police Scotland’s ability to tackle crime, yet that figure could prove an underestimate if the SNP’s funding projections come to fruition.
“This SNP’s undermining of Police Scotland has to stop. Public safety is at stake.”
Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill said: “If the SNP do not listen to the shocking evidence the Criminal Justice Committee heard this morning, they will be presiding over devastating police officer and staff cuts and undermining the ability of our police and fire services to keep our communities safe.
“It is unacceptable that Humza Yousaf cannot even keep his own promises to roll out police bodycams, leaving Scotland behind the rest of the country. The SNP must listen to these stark warnings and act now to address this turmoil.”
Locally, L Division was the name given to the force which was allocated by Police Scotland to Argyll and Bute, Clydebank, Dumbarton and Helensburgh to look after.
Between 2009 and 2010, Strathclyde Police focussed their resources on certain strategic areas. Prioritising Violence, Disorder and Antisocial Behaviour, including domestic abuse, for which West Dunbartonshire has the worst figures in the country, was an immediate measure.
Murder reduced by 26%, attempted murder reduced by 15% and 45,000 fixed penalty notices for disorder were issued. 134 members of serious organised crime groups were arrested, 82 firearms were recovered and £294,955 was seized from organised crime groups. 15,000 drug seizures of Class A and B drugs took place and 2,500 kg worth of drugs including amphetamines, cocaine and heroin were seized and destroyed.
But all the time the deaths from drug figures were rising exponentially and became a huge political issue for the Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP government.
- Terrorism reared its ugly head and Strathclyde Police dealt with a terrorist incident in 2007 at Glasgow Airport which resulted in five members of the public being injured and the perpetrator himself dying later at hospital.
When she was promoted to the role of Chief Constable, Jo Farrell became the first woman to hold the post in the force’s 180-year history.
A few days ago First Minister Humza Yousaf was accused of making Scotland’s streets less safe due to his SNP Government’s under-funding of the police.
In the Scottish Parliament, Douglas Ross, highlighted the submission of Police Scotland to a parliamentary committee, which warned that the roll-out of body-worn cameras could not be guaranteed, and that officer numbers could plummet by a further 2,000 in five years, due to budget constraints.
The Scottish Conservative leader pointed out that officer numbers were already at their lowest level for 14 years and called on the First Minister to reverse the cuts.
Police Scotland’s budget submission to the justice committee on Wednesday stated: “Our current capital allocation is among the lowest in UK policing… This is significantly short of the funding required to improve conditions and equipment for the well-being of officers and staff.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, pictured left, whose wife is a police officer, said: “Body-worn cameras are vital for police officer safety and to increase public trust.
“Humza Yousaf insisted in his Programme for Government that rolling them out next year was a ‘priority’ – but Police Scotland now say they can’t guarantee that because there is a £300 million black hole in their capital budget over the next five years.
“Humza Yousaf didn’t deliver them as justice secretary and, now as First Minister, he is letting down officers again.
“Budgets are so stretched that the police say officer redundancies are on the table.
“On Humza Yousaf’s watch, officer numbers in Scotland are at their lowest level in 14 years. They started to slip when he was justice secretary, they’re in freefall now he’s First Minister.
“Without further funding from the government, Police Scotland have warned that 2,000 officers could be let go within five years – with 600 off our streets by April.
“Under the SNP, Police Scotland is the last force in the UK to roll out body worn cameras, officers no longer have the resources to investigate every crime, their workplaces are not fit for purpose and now the number of officers could be cut by 2,000.
“The thin blue line will be barely visible at this rate. By cutting officer numbers, the First Minister is making Scotland’s communities less safe.”
Here in West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll this is already the case with officers in Helensburgh, for example, being pulled across the Black Hill to Balloch to deal with the ongoing problem of Neds fighting and causing trouble.
The announcement that police would no longer be investigating thefts and housebreakings where the value of what has been stolen is less than £200 was daft. This may not apply across the whole of Scotland but most people believe that it does.
Then there’s the upcoming 20 mph limit of roads in built-up areas which will soon be coming into force. Who will police that? Where will the officers come from?
Chief Constable Jo Farrell will not solve any of these problems with public relations events such as the Blue Light Day we had in Dumbarton a fortnight ago.
Fine sounding words won’t cut it. As George Orwell once said: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The only way for Police Scotland to make a difference in Dunbartonshire and elsewhere is for them to put more officers on the beat.